The hole picture

Darius Kuzmickas

Las Vegas artist Darius Kuzmickas’ photographs, now on view at the Nevada Museum of Art, are made using old and new technologies.

Las Vegas artist Darius Kuzmickas’ photographs, now on view at the Nevada Museum of Art, are made using old and new technologies.

Photo By David Robert

“I’m trying to create a mood,” says Darius Kuzmickas. While the subjects of his photographs will be familiar to anyone who gets out of town—Pyramid Lake, the Great Salt Lake—it’s their serene, reverent mood that discerns them. These locales—and, usually, photographs of them—are known for incessant sunlight and salty or watery glare, but Kuzmickas’ photos impose a distinctly mellow viewpoint on the desert environments. With their soft focus and dark, vignetted edges, the images are inviting in the way an old Hollywood-film still is inviting. Some of the photos look like they could slowly begin moving, with the names of movie stars scrolling down in a scripty, white font as the music swells.

Kuzmickas made the photos using a combination of 19th- and 21st-century techniques that lend themselves to a certain combination of creative freedoms and restrictions. It’s impossible to be in a rush if you’re shooting on overcast days or at dusk with a pinhole camera, and that shows in the composure of the final images. The camera, which has a tiny hole instead of a lens to focus light, requires long exposures, in this case between 10 seconds and 30 minutes, which give the sand and skies in the pictures a lush, manufactured glow.

Often, pinhole cameras are homemade—pinhole users typically embrace the imperfections caused by oatmeal-box camera bodies and holes made in foil with sewing needles. Kuzmickas uses a professionally manufactured pinhole camera and a digital camera that he’s modified to work as a pinhole model, but there are still limitations to contend with. Pinhole photographers have to forego the need to have everything in crisp focus, but the payoff is a potentially very wide angle of view. In other words, you can see for miles, and the terse arrangements of decaying, abandoned lumber, fuzzed-out by lack of a lens, work like train tracks to move your eyes right across the paper and into the distance.

Back at the studio, the Las Vegas-based photographer scans his film into a computer. This would allow him to manipulate the images in just about any way, but the only obvious traces of high-tech wizardry are subtle shifts in color that give the digital prints just the right warm, purplish blacks.

Although the compositions are clean and contained, a lot of background information seeps out from the Kuzmickas’ brain and into his photographs. The images are almost all landscapes, but they contain a trail of biographical clues. Digitally perfectible imperfections remain on some of the negatives—a few stray vertical lines, for example, and the chemical marks that can stick on the edges of the film—but they end up incorporated as design elements instead of erased. (Kuzmickas works as a graphic designer.)

The falling-down ruins and organically shaped geological features in the photos’ foregrounds are coerced into tight systems of precise lines and perfect perspective. (Kuzmickas works as an architect and a photographer of architectural interiors.)

He refers to the desert ruins as resembling sculpture or installation art. (Kuzmickas is, as we know, an artist.)

To sum it all up, as subtle and quiet as the exhibit Darius Kuzmickas: Pinhole Camera Photographs may seem at first, the more you look, the more there is.